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Missouri senator questions lack of discrimination law

Recently, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri questioned whether either of Missouri's National Football League teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and the St. Louis Rams, could legally exclude openly gay defensive end Michael Sam on the basis of sexual orientation, as Missouri is one of the 29 states that has no law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Regardless, the NFL's strict enforcement of their internal rules regarding workplace discrimination prohibits recruiters from questioning prospective players about their sexual orientation during interviews in Indianapolis at the Scouting Combine.

Either Missouri team may elect not to sign or draft Sam if they don't need a defensive end or if they rate players higher than his third-to-fifth round draft status.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell expressed support of Sam's decision to publicly come out and said players and coaches will undergo additional training to ensure all understand the NFL's commitment to diversity.

Last April, the NFL issued a workplace document to all 32 football teams that explicitly stated its policy on sexual orientation. The NFL's Excellence in Workplace Conduct program states:

"It is the policy of the National Football League to provide equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants for employment without regard to race, color, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation or other status protected by applicable federal, state or local law."

The document also states that the objective of the league is to make sure all understand that discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation go against the NFL's values.

The NFL policy extends to a ban on harassing behavior that occurs far off the field and in the locker room. League policy specifically forbids "(a)ny jokes, comments or pranks regarding a co-worker's sexual orientation, such as giving someone a sexual gag gift or having entertainment of a sexual nature take place to celebrate an employee's birthday, etc." as types of harassment a player might encounter.

Representatives for both the Rams and the Chiefs declined to comment on Sen. McCaskill's comments and their interpretation of Missouri's lack of a non-discrimination policy based on sexual orientation.

While Missouri workers may not be protected from harassment due to sexual orientation by state laws, their employer may have internal policies in place that offer them protection. If you feel you are subjected to discrimination, speak to an attorney familiar with Missouri employment law to determine whether you have a cause of action.

Source: The Kansas City Star, "Missouri may lack law, but NFL says teams must follow its non-discrimination policy" Randy Covitz, Feb. 14, 2014

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